The History of Alaska

Denali National Park


            We all remember Seward’s Folly, the purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia in 1867....what a great deal that was.   Secretary of State William Seward paid 7.2 million dollars for this vast territory and few people in the United States could understand what use this 586,000 acres could ever be for their country.   And only one year later, while Seward was visiting Sitka, he proclaimed that this land would become a territory and then a state or even many states of our country.   

            The 40th Congress made Alaska a customs district in 1867, but little else was accomplished to create a civil structure within the area.   President Andrew Johnson had set up a military force of about 500 men to maintain peace and order.  From 1879 to 1884 the U.S. Navy effectively governed the region, but most of the inhabitants lived in the coastal areas or in the southern panhandle.  Then in 1884, with the passage of the First Organic Act, Alaska became a civil and judicial district and the territory acquired its first judges.   

            By 1897 the Klondike gold rush drew people to Alaska in large numbers.  More than 30,000 people came in the last decade of the nineteenth century as gold was discovered in Dawson, Fairbanks and Ester.  Mining, fishing, trapping, and mineral production flourished and the economy started to develop.  But much of the development resulted in exploiting what resources Alaska had to offer and the profits of these ventures went elsewhere. 

            Then during President McKinley’s tenure, Congress put in place the means by which Alaska could establish a proper civil government that could tax and build railroads and thereby enhance commerce.  But, the so called Alaska Syndicate that was formed early in the 20th century by big money corporations such as J. P. Morgan and others thwarted the creation of further self rule.    

            In 1912, during the term of President Taft, Congress passed the Second Organic Act which gave Alaska territorial status, provided for an elected legislature, but yet it did not have sufficiently broad powers and all decisions still had to be approved by Washington much for states rights.  But, it did establish more effective control of the exploitation of Alaska’s resources.   

            For many of the years during the above periods, there was total neglect of this region...little or no development and constant abuse of Alaska’s natural resources.  Even territorial status did little to improve conditions and population and economic decline was a fact of life.   World War II brought a temporary growth of population and jobs with the influx of military into the state, but then after the war it was back to business as usual.   During the cold war however, the rapid growth of military facilities throughout Alaska brought about an enormous increase in population and economic growth.   

            In 1949 the Alaska Statehood Committee launched a campaign which resulted in President Eisenhower signing a bill granting statehood in 1958.  From that period on Alaska has had enormous economic growth with lumber, oil, seafood and tourism.  Alaska continues to depend on the presence of large numbers of federal government jobs within the state. 


Aialik Glacier in Kenai Peninsula Kenai Peninsula Fiords
Athabascan Beaded Fur Coat American Eagle